Smash Pages Q&A: Lynsey G. and Jayel Draco

The founders of Oneshi Press discuss their latest crowdfunding project for the comic ‘Pack.’

Lynsey G and Jayel Draco are the team behind Oneshi Press, which has published books like Tracy Queen, Mr. Guy and The Oneshi Press Comics Anthology. They’re currently crowdfunding the third issue of their series Pack.

It’s been nearly two years since the last issue of the comic, and during those two years a lot has changed and has forced them to reconsider some of the issues around the book, namely gentrification, the police, vigilantism and what that means. I spoke with the two to talk about how they’ve spent the past two years reaching out to people, rethinking the book and moving forward.

You described Pack as an easy sell, and it is a high concept idea.

Lynsey G:  The tagline could be as simple as “vigilante dogs.” We always thought that was going to be our easiest sell. It’s not a difficult concept, but it’s turned into a much more complicated project since it started

Every idea changes as you work on it, but how has the past year changed Pack?

Jayel Draco:  I originally had this concept 10 years ago?

Lynsey:  We started talking about working on it together in 2012-13 and we didn’t start publishing the first issue until 2018. Then we published the second issue in 2019 and we were planning on publishing the third issue last year.

One of the overarching themes of the book is gentrification, specifically in Brooklyn, which is where we were living when we started working together on the project. We were in a situation of being both gentrifiers and gentrified. We were moving around Brooklyn trying to find a place where we could afford to live and watching these neighborhoods change around us. Changing for the worse or better, depending on how you look at it.

And the comic is about everything around that – issues of policing and surveillance, what happens to the people already living there. Those ideas were always baked into the plot of this series. At the time that we were developing Pack, those issues were not easy to talk about. It wasn’t as much of a public conversation. So last summer when we were working on Pack #3, we were continuing with this very subtle way of dealing with these issues when the George Floyd protests started happening and a lot of the issues that we had in the background of the series were front and center in the public consciousness.

We were so excited to see that happening because we wanted these issues to be talked about, but we weren’t sure if this was something we were ready to step into. Are we the right people to step into this conversation with this series? Are we doing this in a way that feels strongly aligned with our values? Suddenly our “easy sell” was going to be launched into a world where it was no longer an easy sell.

Jayel:  We wanted to talk about these issues in a fun, action comic. They weren’t front and center, but by the end we’ll have started to say things. And this may have been super divisive for a lot of people. Now the problem is that we’re pussyfooting about saying these things. We felt like we were being careful about saying something, and now we were way behind the curve and we needed to readjust.

It’s good to be nuanced and talk about all sides of things, but it’s important to let someone who’s hurting know that you see their pain. We wanted to make sure we were clear on that. And we wanted to explore things that are systemic and complicated, and we don’t want to simplify that because simplifying things makes it divisive. We don’t want to be afraid to say things that are important to say. And so we had to take a step back and think about it.

Lynsey:  Breaking it down a little bit, Pack is about this group of vigilante dogs. They’re all rescue dogs or stray dogs that live on the streets of Brooklyn. They’re unified by this guy who’s also living on the streets of Brooklyn and who has a past that we get into slowly over the course of the series. He has basically rejected living as a human being and is now living with these dogs and acting as a vigilante and getting these dogs in on the action with him. They’re filling a void that’s been left open by the police in the area.

The urban planning situation that we’ve seen in multiple places is where some areas are more or less left to their own devices with a lack of policing and infrastructure and those areas “go to the dogs.” You have buildings that are left to be condemned where squatters move in. In our cases, the dogs move in. Then at some point people are kicked out of those buildings and they get bought or renovated and the rent goes up 400% and soon there’s a gym and a yoga studio and voila, new neighborhood. We saw that happening all around us in Brooklyn. That’s a big part of what’s going on in Pack. We felt that one of the important stories there is what’s going on with the police when this is happening. In those areas where you call the police and they don’t show up. That makes it a bad area, but who did that? Who’s in charge of that? Those are questions that are important and some of the characters in Pack are police officers.

Jayel:  A lot of that is crooked real estate practices right up to the line of what is illegal. They have the letter of the law figured out and they get away with what they can. And it ruins people’s lives. It ruins entire communities. It is this planned premeditated thing where you can’t evict the tenants and you can’t jack up the rent, so instead, you let it go to shit and then once everyone leaves, jack up the rent. It’s a really bad practice but we see it all the time. That’s something is a great injustice and how does a vigilante fight that? How can a superhero fight that? How does a guy and pack of dogs fight that? He can beat up a mugger. He can jump out of the shadows with the dogs and beat that person up. But how do you fight this complex corrupt system? 

Lynsey:  The other part of that equation is, if you are an officer of the law and your job is to fight crime, and you see this vigilante, but he’s fighting crime that’s caused by systemic issues, what do you do? Obviously, we don’t have the answers to these questions, but we’ve been trying to write a series that asks these questions and puts them in a context where it can be added to these conversations. Last summer we had to start talking about these issues and how we could step up what we were doing and the questions we were asking were a little bolder than what we had planned to ask. There wasn’t a point in trying to be a part of the conversation around racism and policing unless you were actually going to say the thing. But we also didn’t want to say it in the wrong way. It was a scary moment for us to figure out how can we do this in a responsible way that will show what we feel and what our values are, but isn’t going to hurt people. So we took a year to talk about it.

Jayel:  We had a lot of sensitivity conversations. We talked to as many people as we could about this who have direct lived experience. That was important. It was hard but it was important. We got really good feedback and really good insights. And we got some positive encouragement and support. But I’m sure no matter what, there are some parts of this that are clunky. It’s hard to talk about something this complex. It might very well take a year in between each issue. It might take us that long to figure out that we’re on the right path.

Have these conversations and rethinking changed the story and direction and the ending you were working towards?

Jayel:  In quite a few cases, yeah. The big plot points are still the same, but the way we get to them or the way they are revealed is a little different now. We have a sequel series in mind, and without any spoilers I will say that some of our sensitivity conversations have really elucidated finer points in how we get our characters there being just as important as where we get them there. That I think was something we needed to hear, but it’s a lot of work. And I encourage more people to do this and to get sensitivity feedback and to have the hard conversations. If a topic is hard it’s probably because it’s important. Don’t avoid it. Do the research. Talk to people. Get feedback. Change your mind. Be malleable. Rewrite your project. Go that extra step. I feel like a lot of people say, that’s hard and a lot of responsibility, so I better just avoid it. That’s not helping. We think it’s important at the end of the day to do this extra work and try to get as close to perfect as possible.

It sounds like you had these ideas and this process of reaching out to people, and listening has freed you in a sense, but that comes with work.

Lynsey:  We have regular conversations about the creators’ responsibility. We don’t see eye to eye exactly, which is good, but the process of listening and learning and changing our creative work to make it more responsible, wasn’t that hard, honestly. I think for a lot of creators – and I totally understand this – it feels harder than it is. They always say that your creative output is like your baby. That makes it scary to think, what if I have to go back and change this, or rethink the way I approach this project. It’s a high hurdle to get over. But it’s not that hard to do if you can put yourself in a more receptive position. We’re still in the process of figuring out how to change some of what we have planned so that we can be more aware of the impact that our work might have on readers. It is difficult, because you have to change some things and leave behind the vision that you may have had. But if its in the service of making something that’s better than it would have been, I think that is the responsibility of the creator. 

There’s always a conversation going on about impact versus intent. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are when you make something if when you put it out into the world, it hurts people. What we are learning is that we have a followup series planned, but if in the process of getting to that series, we are hurting people with the way that we handled the characters’ arc to get them to where they need to be for the next series, it doesn’t matter if our intentions are good because that reader is not going to want to read. That’s the opposite of what we’re hoping for. It’s been difficult to modify the way that we envisioned this series playing out, but on the whole, it hasn’t been harmful to us as human beings. It’s been good for us. I say this so that other creators who might be afraid of making changes to something that they’re working on can hear that its not so bad. You can make changes and listen and learn and make something that’s better in the end.

Jayel:  I think the hardest part, really, is that you have to allow your ego to be vulnerable. To let someone say, you did that and it’s not great. You have to hear that and go, I intended this, but I can see that it went that way, and I can see how that can impart a harmful idea to the audience. In my effort to be cool and a great artist and be helpful, I did something that wasn’t great. That’s a vulnerability that I think is really difficult to be okay with. But it is okay. There’s no loss of blood. [laughs] I’m not wounded. I have to rethink things. If you’re okay with that, it’s not harmful at all. But I think we have so much attached to the idea of needing to be the person who can do it right that we can end up sticking with something that’s wrong because we don’t want to admit that we do it perfectly the first time. When in actuality the way to do it perfectly is to be open and receptive and humble and change. And it’s hard. But not as hard as being hardheaded and wrong and not seeing it. 

Editing is a difficult process in and of itself, but having conversations which aren’t about whether the story works but these other issues and our blindspots, that’s a whole other level of how do you address that and make the thing.

Lynsey:  That’s been one of the takeaways from the last year or so. Having this very public conversation about systemic problems that are affecting lots and lots of people. The point a lot of the time is not, oh, this is wrong and someone must have the answer so let’s fix it. It’s very much about finding our own blindspots and acknowledging that they’re there and learning what you can do get past them and move forward better. I don’t want that to come across like I’ve fixed myself; it’s an ongoing process that anyone who’s interested in being a good person must continually be doing. I think that this is the creative version of trying to start that process and understanding our blindspots and look at them honestly and move forward. 

And I think it’s perhaps more important because you’re not writing something designed to give answers, but are trying to honestly portray the world in its complexity and that means acknowledging its complexity and what that means.

Jayel:  I feel like you really understand it and if even a small percentage of our audience has that understanding of how complex it is and how difficult it is, maybe this will go over well.

Lynsey:  It isn’t easy because it’s become so complex. We can still lead with vigilante dogs. One of the other tagline was, “do you love dogs and hate crime?” Well, it’s more complicated than that.

Jayel:  One of our good friends came up with that and it was funny, except what they do is crime. A vigilante is a criminal. And crime isn’t always bad. There are a lot of positive social changes that came out of someone doing something illegal. I mean not giving up your seat on the bus or drinking out of the wrong water fountain were crimes. There are many crimes that need to be done in order to move us to a place where we have an equitable society. There are many crimes that need to be done to get us to a good place. So they do fight crime, but they fight crime that they don’t like. Which is also dangerous and bad. They’re vigilantes, so they decide who they’re going to fight.

Lynsey:  We’re adjusting that tagline from “Do you love dogs and hate crime?” to “Do you love dogs and justice”? Justice is much more the question in the book.

To go back to old pulp fiction, everything from Zorro to Dashiell Hammett were written in or set in periods where there was systemic crime and corruption and inequality, and the police and authorities couldn’t necessarily be trusted, and where vigilantes or private eyes may not have been “good” but they weren’t always bad.

Lynsey:  That’s a really good point. One of the main characters in the story, James, is a police officer. This guy is your standard rookie cop who wants to do the right thing and yet he finds himself drawn to the vigilante and he wants to know why are you doing this? They establish a tenuous friendship and by starting to see things through different eyes, James – and the readers – start to notice that the police force isn’t as trustworthy as he thought.

Jayel:  Not everyone has to be corrupt. It only has to be a couple people. That’s the saying, a few bad apples spoil the bunch. If you have one bad apple, they’ll all go bad. It doesn’t have to be everyone.

Lynsey:  That is a really big part of the story that we have had a hard time figuring out how to grapple with. We do have a character who wants to be a good cop, and it’s a moral and ethical conundrum for that character. At a time when the concept of whether the “good cop” is a thing has been hotly debated, as the creators of the character, how do we communicate these ideas without taking an easy route and saying that he’s a bad guy because he’s a cop or that he’s a good guy because he’s a cop?

So you’re kickstarting Pack. What’s your pitch for it and what’s coming up next?

Lynsey:  It’s been two years since we kickstarted the last issue so we’re kickstarting the first three issues. For folks who didn’t read it before, you can get the first three issues, which gives you the backstory of three of the six dogs and gets into all the issues we cover in the series.

Jayel:  We always try to make sure we’re giving the most value, so yes, in a few months you’ll be able to order the issues from our website but we really appreciate our backers and kickstarter backers can get the issues plus pdf’s and art and other stuff at a really great cost.

Lynsey:  It launched on July 31 and goes through the month of August. We have some exclusive goodies for early backers. We have some sweet rewards. And we hope that people will find us

Jayel:  In October we’re going to have a Kickstarter for our 11th anthology. Each anthology has just gotten bigger and better and higher quality than the one before it and its amazing to watch. That’s our labor of love. We’ve never made a profit off the anthologies but we’ve published all these people and people have met each other because they were in the anthology and are now working together on something else. It’s amazing to be a part of that.

You can support Pack on Kickstarter through Aug. 31.

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